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Greater Fort Wayne, Black Chamber join forces to spur economic growth

Rebecca Green
Leaders of both organizations hope the new partnership between the Black Chamber and Greater Fort Wayne will lead to greater opportunities for the city's southeast side.

Earlier this week, Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. and the Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce announced an economic partnership between the two entities.

According to Greater Fort Wayne CEO John Urbahns, GFW and the Black Chamber worked together on many items over the last decade.

He says this specific partnership has been in the works since the summer months, after the Black Chamber elected a new president.

"He was purposefully trying to make sure that people understand the programming the Black Chamber is offering, or the programming that we’re offering, now we can make sure that message is carried to a broader set of individuals and hopefully get more people involved in those offerings," said Urbahns. "That’s going to be the starting point."

Ramadan Abdul-Azeez was elected Black Chamber president in July, and approached Greater Fort Wayne about a more formal collaboration process.

Abdul-Azeez says there's a disconnect between business language, development language, and the language residents outside of those areas speak, which has created gaps between local government and Black-owned business interests, particularly on Fort Wayne's Southeast quadrant.

He says Black businesses have some trepidation when it comes to working with local government and financial institutions. A way to improve that is through filling those gaps, and he has three prongs for addressing this.

"One is experience. Two is information flow. Three is perspective in general," Abdul-Azeez said. "And the language of business is actually very different between majority interests and the minority community. And things actually get lost in translation."

He cited things such as business expansion, access to capital, and access to property as barriers to the success of Black-owned businesses in Fort Wayne that the Chamber can help address.

This is a long-term, ongoing plan, but a lot of progress has been made already; he notes that banks like Chase and Fifth Third, as well as local institutions like 1st Source, have expressed interest in offering a "do-over" to potentially offer capital for certain projects.

But Abdul-Azeez adds that right now the most important thing is breaking language barriers and improving trust between the local government, banks and -- most importantly -- the community.

"We're establishing this and sending a signal out to the Black community that we are taking their interests to the central city, and we will be communicating with them regularly and making sure there’s a bridge of communication that exists," he said.

Abdul-Azeez spoke highly of his colleagues with Greater Fort Wayne, and says he hopes the partnership will be a step in addressing the concerns -- and frankly, the needs -- of minority business owners in the city.

Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered. He currently hosts Morning Edition.